Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2020/Fall/105/Section071/Maria

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Maria
Born Unknown, circa 1860
Died Unknown
Education One month
Occupation Formerly enslaved
Religion Methodist
File:YoungEnslavedChild.jpg
Young enslaved child, as Maria once was.[1]

Overview[edit | edit source]

Maria was interviewed in Paris, Tennessee by the Federal Writer’s project between the years of 1936 and 1940. Maria’s last name and exact age are unknown due to the lack of records of her exact birth date. At the time of her interview, Maria was about 80 years old. Maria had been born into slavery in Dukedom, Kentucky and remained enslaved until she was a young woman.

Biography[edit | edit source]

Maria was born in Dukedom, Kentucky, enslaved to a white herbalist master named Dr. Bettsy Yates and her older husband. Maria’s mother was one of seven children and the white masters owned much of Maria’s family. As a child, her white mistress claimed her in a pet-like way, and Maria became her house-girl. When she was a bit older, Maria went to live with her father, Barnard, and worked in the field. Maria did not go to school until she got married and went for two months. During this time, she learned the entire dictionary. Maria’s husband ended up cheating on and leaving her. As a woman who was taught by both her black and white elders to never lie, she continued her life despite this betrayal. Throughout her adult years, Maria became an avid Methodist churchgoer.

Maria never knew her last name or exact age, but at her predicted age of 78 years old, filed for a pension. In an interview, she claimed to feel accepted by all, both black and white. The white boy she used to play with when she was younger helped her to get a “pink slip” for the pension. Yet, when she took the slip to the Welfare Office, they refused to see her. Still, a white connection of hers promised the pension would come. At the time of her interview, the pension had still not come for two years. At the estimated age of 80, the same year she was interviewed, she went blind and could no longer help her crippled cousin, Verna, who only made $10 in alimony to support her three young children.[2]

Social Context[edit | edit source]

Poverty and the History of Institutionalized Racial Discrimination[edit | edit source]

This table breaks down job distribution in the US.[3]

The effects of slavery and Jim Crow laws are still very much alive and present in various American systems, causing inequality on the basis of race. Slavery was abolished in 1863, however, many previously enslaved people remained in the South, getting paid for work they had done as slaves.[3] The Freedmen’s Bureau, a federal agency working to help people transition from lives of slavery, encouraged this. Many southerners took advantage of former slaves, creating “Black Codes” to keep African Americans in subordinate jobs and roles. These laws also created possibilities for sending Blacks back into lives of slavery.[3]

Policies created during the New Deal also increased the wealth disparity between whites and blacks. The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 excluded agricultural, domestic, and service fields from receiving benefits. Therefore, especially during the Great Depression, blacks were stuck in lives of poverty. This policy has lasting impacts, as some field workers do not have overtime or baseline wage benefits.[3] Another New Deal policy was the Wagner Act, improving the lives of whites by allowing unions to be formed while also allowing discrimination within these unions of people of color.[3]

Due to the discrimination faced by minorities both from government institutions and socially, "Black or African American, Asian, and Hispanic or Latino people comprise 36 percent of the overall U.S. workforce... constitute 58 percent of miscellaneous agricultural workers; 70 percent of maids and housekeeping cleaners; and 74 percent of baggage porters, bellhops, and concierges.” Specifically, Blacks make up 12.6% of the workforce but 37.7% of all baggage porter, bellhops and concierges.[3]

Mel Jones states in The Atlantic, "to many Millennials, the small influxes of cash from parents are a lifeline, a financial relief they’re hard pressed to find elsewhere. To researchers, however, it’s both a symptom and an exacerbating factor of wealth inequality.”[4] Without the ability to build familial wealth throughout the years, families of color have been unable to pass down inheritances to their children while many whites are able to do so through these systematic advantages. As of 2018, the wealth gap between Blacks and Whites was $352,250 per capita.[5] David Swinton states that the black community is owed $5.3 million in reparations for employment discrimination between 1929 and 1969. This number only takes into account part of the Jim Crow Era.[5] Overall, the black community has been systematically oppressed by government institutions which in turn has created economic distress.

Education in the Black Community[edit | edit source]

The majority of slave owners objected to the education of their slaves, specifically in terms of literacy. Owners felt that allowing their slaves to read would increase the likelihood of rebellion, especially since literacy gave them access to abolitionist essays and the ability to transcribe fabricated passes to go north.[6] These fears were largely created by slave rebellions against their owners such as the Stono Rebellion and Nat Turner’s revolt. Other mislead owners thought slaves did not have the cognitive ability to learn.[6] South Carolina passed a law forbidding slaves to learn to read and write. The main reason some slaves became literate was due to religion. Missionaries came to plantations and convinced owners that certain Bible teachings would reinforce the enslaved people’s duties to their masters.[6] However, classes taught on the basis of religious principles limited the curriculum for slaves.[7]

Slaves were forced to their own methods of learning. Slaves often taught each other to read and write. Some literate slaves wrote about their time in slavery, adding insight to advance the push for abolition.[7]

Once the Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves from explicit slavery, the African American community sought educational opportunities. The African American community changed the way many learned, even whites, "by challenging the plantation owners’ educational paradigm that schooling happened in the home, and not in public schools.”[6] Education improved the lives of African Americans, but it did not solve many of societies issues. Institutions of discrimination still took a great toll on the African American community, preventing major advancements in equality efforts.

References[edit | edit source]

Abraham Ruelas | July 28,  2017. “How African Americans Emerged from Slavery with a Hunger for Education: Essay,” October 3, 2017. https://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/07/28/african-americans-emerged-slavery-hunger-education/ideas/nexus/.

“African American Children Recorded Throughout History: Collar City Brownstone: African History, African American History, Black History.” Pinterest. Accessed October 27, 2020. https://www.pinterest.fr/pin/430375308112099460/.

Danyelle Solomon, Connor Maxwell. “Systematic Inequality and Economic Opportunity.” Center for American Progress, 2019. https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/race/reports/2019/08/07/472910/systematic-inequality-economic-oppor https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/race/reports/2019/08/07/472910/systematic-inequality-economic-opportunity/tunity/.

Educational Broadcasting Corporation. “Slavery and the Making of America . The Slave Experience: Education, Arts, & Culture: PBS.” Slavery and the Making of America . The Slave Experience: Education, Arts, & Culture | PBS, 2004. https://www.thirteen.org/wnet/slavery/experience/education/history2.html.

“Folder 933: Clark, Ruth, and Aswell (Interviewers): Too Old to Work, or Ol' Mistress.” Federal Writers Project Papers. Accessed October 27, 2020. https://dc.lib.unc.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/03709/id/1159/rec/1.

Jones, Mel. “Why So Many Minority Millennials Can't Get Ahead.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, April 14, 2016. https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2015/11/gifts-debts-inheritances/417423/.

Rolen, Emily, and Mitra Toossi. “Blacks in the Labor Force : Career Outlook.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, February 2018. https://www.bls.gov/careeroutlook/2018/article/blacks-in-the-labor-force.htm.

Thomas Craemer, Trevor Smith. “Wealth Implications of Slavery and Racial Discrimination for African American Descendants of the Enslaved - Thomas Craemer, Trevor Smith, Brianna Harrison, Trevon Logan, Wesley Bellamy, William Darity, 2020.” SAGE Journals, June 19, 2020. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0034644620926516.

  1. African American Children Recorded Throughout History: Collar City Brownstone: African History, African American History, Black History,” Pinterest, accessed October 27, 2020, https://www.pinterest.fr/pin/430375308112099460/.
  2. “Folder 933: Clark, Ruth, and Aswell (Interviewers): Too Old to Work, or Ol' Mistress,” Federal Writers Project Papers, accessed October 27, 2020, https://dc.lib.unc.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/03709/id/1159/rec/1.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 Connor Maxwell Danyelle Solomon, “Systematic Inequality and Economic Opportunity,” Center for American Progress, 2019, https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/race/reports/2019/08/07/472910/systematic-inequality-economic-oppor https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/race/reports/2019/08/07/472910/systematic-inequality-economic-opportunity/tunity/.
  4. Mel Jones, “Why So Many Minority Millennials Can't Get Ahead,” The Atlantic (Atlantic Media Company, April 14, 2016), https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2015/11/gifts-debts-inheritances/417423/.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Trevor Smith Thomas Craemer, “Wealth Implications of Slavery and Racial Discrimination for African American Descendants of the Enslaved - Thomas Craemer, Trevor Smith, Brianna Harrison, Trevon Logan, Wesley Bellamy, William Darity, 2020,” SAGE Journals, June 19, 2020, https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0034644620926516.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 2017 Abraham Ruelas | July 28, “How African Americans Emerged from Slavery with a Hunger for Education: Essay,” October 3, 2017, https://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/07/28/african-americans-emerged-slavery-hunger-education/ideas/nexus/.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Educational Broadcasting Corporation, “Slavery and the Making of America . The Slave Experience: Education, Arts, & Culture: PBS,” Slavery and the Making of America . The Slave Experience: Education, Arts, & Culture | PBS, 2004, https://www.thirteen.org/wnet/slavery/experience/education/history2.html.